During the “dark time” on August 21, it’s completely safe to watch the sky and enjoy the total solar eclipse. If you want to watch the partial phase, while the moon is moving in the way, you need protection for your eyes. Dr. Frederick Fraunfelder, director of MU Health Care’s Mason Eye Institute and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at MU School of Medicine, offers some information about eclipse viewing safety:
Avoid gazing at the sun with unprotected eyes. That’s the bottom line. “There’s about a two-and-a-half-minute window there when you can actually look at the eclipse because no harmful sun rays are making it around the moon,” Fraunfelder says. “I’m not necessarily recommending doing that, because as soon as the moon moves to the side, that’s when the sun rays will hit your retina.”
Gazing into the sun can cause thermal burns on the retina. “We worry about people looking at the sun during an eclipse, because as soon as the moon moves away from the sun and the bright light comes through again, the pupil is dilated,” Fraunfelder explains. “When it becomes bright light all at once, a large amount of sun rays make it into your eyes and can cause thermal burns. If that burn occurs in the macula, where the cones in your eye are concentrated, you could lose a significant amount of your eyesight.”
Wear protective solar eclipse sunglasses. Solar eclipse sunglasses are available for purchase at the MU bookstore and other places around town. The glasses filter out the harmful rays and allow you to look at the eclipse throughout the whole process, Fraunfelder explains.
View with your own two eyes. Fraunfelder says he does not recommend looking through a telescope, camera, or binoculars at the eclipse, even if you have a solar filter or sunglasses on. “The camera and telescope appear to magnify the UV rays and can still burn your retina through your camera, telescope or binoculars.”
Normal sunglasses won’t do the trick. Name-brand sunglasses that block out UVA and UV light are not designed to look at solar eclipses.
Keep an eye on the kiddos. “If kids have solar glasses on, you have to make sure they are supervised and wearing them,” Fraunfelder warns. “They may just take them off.”
What is a total solar eclipse and why does it matter?
Make the most of the experience. See list of weekend events and viewing options here.